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Child Figure

Child figure (mwana)

Tsonga People
South Africa
Child Figure (nwana)
Late 20th Century
Cloth, glass beads, buttons, metal beads, wood, tin can
Gift of Norma Canelas Roth and William D. Roth

Young Tsonga women make child figures referred to as nwana and dance with them during their initiation ceremonies, or thomba. The initiate holds the nwana in the palm of her hand, and presents it to a young man of her choice. The stout, cylindrical form covered with various polychrome beaded patterns, bears a type stiff cloth skirt that mimics those worn by mature women. The small loops on the top represent a popular style of earrings, and the buttons indicate facial features. The nwana, called “child” but dressed as a woman and presented to a prospective husband, is symbolic of her transition to womanhood, and becoming a wife and mother.

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